Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York City mandates vaccines; South Africa registers 591 new cases

A man receives a dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive organised by Indonesia's national police and national armed forces at the mobile brigade police headquarters in Depok, west Java, Indonesia, on 20 October 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MAST IRHAM)
By Bloomberg
20 Oct 2021 0

South Africa registered 591 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,917,846. A further 80 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 88,754. A total of 20,794,191 people have been vaccinated.

The White House outlined a plan to vaccinate younger children once the shots are approved by regulators, focusing on smaller doses given with smaller needles. 

New York City will mandate vaccination and eliminate a testing option for all municipal employees, including police and firefighters. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate as much as $120-million to widen global access to Merck’s promising pill to treat Covid-19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s most sweeping restrictions since May as the numbers of new infections and deaths reached record levels. In the UK, a government official ruled out a new lockdown even as coronavirus cases tick upward and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns of a difficult winter ahead.

Key developments 

Latvia resumes shutdowns as infections soar 

Latvia became the European Union’s first member to resume significant shutdowns as soaring infections – the world’s highest per capita during the past week – threatened to overwhelm hospitals. For the next month, the country will close bars and shops, impose curfews and resume distance learning for students.

Neighboring Estonia said it may follow if its situation gets much worse. Romania – where less than a third of the population is vaccinated – has turned to the World Health Organization for help after deaths and new cases hit records.

Kamala Harris meets with federal workers ahead of vaccination mandate 

US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with federal workers on Wednesday morning ahead of the president’s deadline for government employees to prove their vaccination status.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, who leads the federal government’s human resources agency, also attended the meeting. Federal workers will have to prove they’re vaccinated by November 8 or face unpaid suspension followed by termination, her team said earlier this month.

The meeting marks the latest step in the president’s push to increase vaccination rates nationwide. Roughly 2.1 million civilians work for the federal government. 

Czech Republic moves to stem outbreak 

The Czech government will make wearing face-masks obligatory at all indoor spaces as of next week to stem the spread, which significantly accelerated this week, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said after an extraordinary Cabinet meeting. 

Customers at restaurants will have to provide certificates of either vaccination or negative test results. The government also shortened the validity of Covid-19 tests and stopped providing free tests to people, with the exceptions of children, to motivate people to get vaccinated.

Serbia imposes curbs as cases soar 

Serbia is curbing access to indoor bars and restaurants, allowing in only people who have been fully vaccinated or recovered not more than seven months ago, Premier Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade. Negative virus tests are valid for up to 72 hours, she said.

The health crisis is worsening again, with new infections spiking to more than 7,000 a day in the nation of barely seven million people.

White House details plans about shots for kids 

The White House outlined its plan to vaccinate younger children, focusing on smaller doses given with smaller needles once the shots are authorised by regulators. 

“We will be ready to get shots in arms,” President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said during a White House briefing on the plan, which includes supporting vaccination by primary care doctors and in pharmacies and schools. 

The US has ordered enough supply to vaccinate all children aged five to 11, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

Putin orders sweeping curbs 

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s most sweeping restrictions since May as the numbers of new infections and deaths reached record levels. 

Putin approved a government proposal to declare October 30 to November 7 “non-working days” to slow the spread. The country’s worst-affected regions will be required to introduce the stay-at-home order from October. 23.

“Now it is especially important to bring down the peak of a new wave of the epidemic,” said Putin, who issued an unusually impassioned plea for Russians to protect themselves by getting vaccinated. 

New York City to mandate vaccines 

New York City will mandate vaccination for all city workers, eliminating a testing option.

Starting on Wednesday, all employees who get their first shot at a city-run site will receive an extra $500 in their paycheck. The benefit will end on October 29, the deadline for employees to submit proof of at least one dose, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Employees not vaccinated by then will be placed on unpaid leave, the mayor said. The city will immediately begin “impact bargaining” with affected unions, according to the statement. 

Austria sets workplace restrictions 

Austria will require people who come into close contact with others at the workplace to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. The measure, announced by the government in Vienna, takes effect next month.

Austria is struggling to curb the latest wave of infections, with more than 3,700 new cases registered on Wednesday, the most since March. Vaccinations have helped cap hospitalisations, however, with coronavirus patients in intensive care units at less than a third of peak levels seen in April and a year ago.

Romania seeks more assistance 

Romania is seeking more help from the European Union to get medicine and medical personnel to treat coronavirus patients, the country’s health ministry said. Its Covid hospitals had no available ICU beds on Wednesday, with about 1,800 people occupying existing capacity.

The country is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world because of a low vaccination rate, insufficient restrictions and a disregard for social distancing measures. 

Kenya lifts curfew 

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew as the number of new coronavirus cases fell. Place of worship can also be filled to two-thirds of their capacity, double the previous limit, Kenyatta said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Singapore extends curbs by extra month 

Singapore will maintain current virus restrictions for about another month as new infections threaten to overwhelm its health care system. The city-state set a record with almost 4,000 daily cases.

The strict measures limiting outdoor social gatherings to two people and making work from home the default will continue until November 21, the health ministry said on Wednesday. The government will extend aid amounting to S$640-million ($476-million) to help tide over businesses and people during this period.  

Europe wants to make travel easier 

EU countries are seeking agreement on ways to ease pandemic travel restrictions within and into the bloc as leaders work to boost vaccination levels.

One option under discussion ahead of a two-day EU summit in Brussels is a plan to effectively scrap the traffic-light system of green and red areas in the bloc that has been used to govern travel rules and instead allow anyone who has been vaccinated to travel freely, according to a European Commission informal proposal seen by Bloomberg.

UK rules out another lockdown 

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said there won’t be a fresh lockdown of the UK economy even as cases tick upward and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns of a difficult winter ahead.

In a bullish round of interviews with UK broadcasters, Kwarteng said the government is monitoring coronavirus data by the hour, and pointed out that while case levels are high, hospitalisations and deaths are much lower than at the start of the year due to the country’s successful vaccination programme. He told LBC radio “I categorically rule out” new lockdown measures.

Malaysia tracking app hacked 

Malaysia’s Covid-19 tracking application has been misused by “malicious scripts” to send unsolicited one-time passwords to random phone numbers.

The team running the MySejahtera app, which also verifies Covid vaccinations, said they received complaints from several users about getting OTP messages to verify their phone numbers for check-in QR registrations.

Some users received emails saying they’ve tested positive for Covid. The incident sparked concerns on social media about a likely leak of personal data involving the nation’s 32 million people. 

Roche raises profit forecasts on Covid-19 test demand 

Roche Holding raised its forecast for the year slightly, saying demand for its prescription drugs and Covid-19 tests will help sales and earnings rise in the mid-single digits.

The new outlook comes after revenue rose 8% in the first nine months of the year, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said. Roche’s previous forecast was for sales and earnings excluding some items to grow by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage.

Gates backs access to Covid pill 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said millions of courses of Merck’s promising pill for Covid-19 could begin to reach lower-income nations early next year as the charity kicks in as much as $120-million to widen global access to the therapy.

The funds will assist generic-drug manufacturers, some of which have indicated they could produce as many as 10 million treatments a month, according to Trevor Mundel, president of the global health division at the Gates Foundation.

The drug’s progress has been accompanied by concerns that lower-income nations struggling to obtain Covid vaccines could be left behind once again when it comes to therapies. The foundation is calling on other donors to devote resources to accelerating the roll-out of Merck’s experimental molnupiravir to poorer nations if it’s approved.

Singapore says hospitals under strain 

Covid-19 cases are in danger of stretching the country’s health care system to its limits, even as strict rules designed to curb the current outbreak are set to be reviewed within days. 

The peak in new daily cases was likely due to a post-weekend surge, the Ministry of Health said, though it will continue monitoring cases to determine if it was a trend. 

Vietnam aims to revive manufacturing and exports 

The southeast Asian nation is seeking to revive manufacturing and exports after a crippling coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister said.

“The country faced increasing difficulties with the outbreak of the Delta variant,” which challenged the resiliency of its economy, Chinh said in an address to the National Assembly.

The ravages of the Covid-19 Delta variant sent GDP plunging 6.17% in the third quarter, the worst performance since the government started tracking the figure. 

Bangkok hits 70% vaccination rate 

Thailand’s capital has administered at least two doses of vaccine to 71% of its adult population, paving the way for the city to welcome back inoculated visitors without a mandatory quarantine from November 1. The inoculation rate is projected to reach 80% by the end of this month, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Thailand is set to allow quarantine-free visits from five nations including the US, UK and Singapore starting next month as it seeks to revive its tourism-reliant economy. The country reported 8,918 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the lowest single-day tally since July 13. DM

With assistance from Vivek Shankar, Irina Vilcu, Marton Eder and Bella Genga.

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